The African Union electronic passport is here, the new passport was launched at the 27th AU Summit held in Kigali Rwanda on Sunday, July 17.
Chadian President Iddris Deby and Rwandan head of state Paul Kagame were among the first to hold the now sought after document.
The document touted as a symbol of pan-Africanism has been initially availed to the heads of state, AU officials and select government personnel. The rest of Africans will however wait a little longer before they hold the red-booklet. African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma says the union will work to ensure that the passports are issued to individual citizens within ‘a country’s national policies, and when they are ready’, therefore no specific timeline was issued to ensure all countries adopt the new document.
There are however concerns on how effective the document is going to work, currently most African states have tough travel and visa restrictions save for only a few that allow use of National IDs to cross the border like for the case of Rwanda (one of the 13 states that enacted a visa-free policy for African citizens) and Kenya, most recently Ghana started implementing a new policy which guarantees visas on arrival for African nationals, a move that excited most of the African continent. The Seychelles on the other hand has an open access visa policy applicable to citizens of AU member states.
South Africa for example is among African states with tough visa requirements, only recently the Zuma-led nation relaxed visa rules for nations such as Kenya, this meant that Kenyans studying in SA would be issued with long-term visas in line with the duration of their courses, and in effect any renewals would be done in South Africa therefore, students would not be forced to travel back to Kenya to renew their visas. The agreement within the two states meant that they would have mutual dealings on transnational crimes like; terrorism, illegal guns and money laundering. About a year before South Africa had imposed tough rules on Kenyans seeking to visit the country imposing a service charge on applications.
The coming of the AU passport is expected to boost integration and free movement within the continent, but the big question is how will the states tackle visa requirements and costly air fares? Especially since the implementation of the passport relies on the pace of an individual country. Other quarters believe that the whole thing is a hogwash since first, there is no practical timeline on the implementation; secondly, how the trading blocs such as COMESA, EAC will work around the whole thing, thirdly there is the issue of reliance on the pace of an individual country. There are also concerns on the tech aspect of it; the countries are not at par when it comes to technology, therefore may not be ready for its implementation.
Some countries rely on visas as a source of income, this would prove to be a challenge because they will have to look for an alternative source of income, then there is the case of influx of population to specific countries which may be considered as ‘developed’ resulting to cases of xenophobia and such meaning economic and political pressures.
As much as the AU passport is good news for the African continent, we need to look at various issues before we get all excited about a program that would probably only work in theory than in practice. Therefore, being the ‘biggest’ achievement for AU we give them a pat on the back but quick to remind them that they have not outlined the practicability of the program.